Off to Spain
Am off to Barcelona in the morning for a few days before the Davis Cup begins in Seville on Friday. I've never been to Spain and am very much in the "I can't believe how this all happened" mindset. So easy to click a few times on a website and boom - off to a foreign land.

Davis Cup will certainly be one of the best tennis experiences a tennis fan can have - I'm expecting crazy, loud, exuberant fans for both the Spanish and Argentinean teams. These guys are pretty much my most favourite tennis players - Nadal, Del Potro, Nalbandian, Ferrer, Monaco, Verdasco, Lopez - it's just a dream lineup and the atmosphere at the Estadio OlĂ­mpico de Sevilla will certainly be indescribable.

It's hard to really choose a side, as I want Rafa to win all his matches but would be delighted if David Nalbandian gets a Davis Cup win. So I will go and be dressed in red tho my heart is torn!

It will be fantastic to see the Spanish team in action - having never been to a Davis Cup tie before, I've never seen the camaraderie a team competition creates. Just check out these pics - going to be a dream three days in Seville!

I'm going to be reporting for so be sure to follow
@tennisGS or my Twitter account at @StephinNZ for all the stories, photos and videos!

Berdych Defeats Ferrer to Knock Djokovic out of London

NOTE: While in London and Sevilla, I will be working as a tournament correspondent for Tennis Grandstand. The following article was originally published in and can be viewed here.

By the time the final round robin match was ready to begin at the ATP World Tour Finals on Friday night, the O2 crowd was truly energized. Not only were they promised an intriguing match between David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, but the result would decide whether Berdych or world #1 Novak Djokovic would advance to the semifinals.

Ferrer had been the in-form player coming into the match after defeating both Djokovic and Andy Murray in straight sets to lead his group. Berdych, on the other hand, saw both his previous matches decided by third set tiebreaks. He wasn’t able to close out Djokovic, but defeated Janko Tipsarevic after surviving a match point.

The O2 Arena delivers such an amazing experience when players enter the court. The lights dim, the blue court literally glows and superb graphics on the big screen and all around the court are dazzling. Add in the smoke machine and music and the tennis players must feel like grand celebrities. It’s an amazing sight and made this tennis fan proud to be present to cheer on the ATP’s top stars during the week.

From the first point, Ferrer continued the form he’d shown all week and he fought off early break points to take the set 6-3. Berdych played evenly throughout the match, but it was Ferrer who was winning the rallies, which often ended on a Berdych error (43 in total).

But when serving up a break at 4-3 in the second set, the Spaniard tightened up and handed the break back. Seemingly from nowhere, Ferrer’s play, particularly his serve slumped and Berdych seemed to have an extra spring in his step throughout the third set. He sprinted to a 5-0 lead (winning seven straight games), before Ferrer held serve to escape a bagel, and then took the match 3-6,7-5, 6-1.

Watching a player as likeable and hard-working as Ferrer suddenly struggle to find his shots was not easy. But Berdych, who seemed an afterthought on the tour for much of the first half of the season, was delighted with the way he hung in there and he was rewarded for his perseverance.

“The turning point, I think, was just the one that I made on set point to win the second set, because all the time before I was down,” said Berdych. “When I made the second set, it just gave me a lot of confidence [and] energy. I started to feel really great on court.”

The Czech moves into the World Tour Finals semifinals for the first time, and will face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Ferrer, who has already qualified after winning his first two matches, faces Roger Federer whom he has a 0-11 record against.

Ferrer and Berdych Win in Contrasting Styles at ATP World Tour Finals – Live Coverage

NOTE: While in London and Sevilla, I will be working as a tournament correspondent for Tennis Grandstand. The following article was originally published in and can be viewed here.

Berdych Battles Past Tipsarevic
Disappointed tennis fans didn’t hide their initial lack of interest in the Tomas Berdych/Janko Tipsarevic match on Wednesday at the ATP World Tour Finals. It seemed as though many fans hadn’t seen the news that Scot Andy Murray had pulled out of the tournament.

When the players entered the O2 Arena, the applause was muted and that absence of energy seemed to transition into Berdych’s game in the first set. His stinging forehand and aggressive play were nowhere to be found, while Tipsarevic was steady and often merely had to keep balls in play as Berdych‘s error count grew.

Perhaps the Czech was still suffering from a post-match hangover due to his inability to close out world #1 Novak Djokovic on Monday. He didn’t move well in the first set and served poorly as the #2 Serbian took the first set, 6-2.

The second set was more of the same until Berdych finally started to cut down his errors, and he seemed to hang in there until he managed to break Tipsarevic and served out set two 6-3. By this stage, the crowd still was mostly silent – there had been some better shotmaking in set two but the atmosphere felt dead. There just hadn’t been much to cheer about.

But how quickly a match can turn – the third set proved that a poor start can be overcome and fans were treated to a dramatic tiebreaker which had one of the strangest endings one can experience. Up a minibreak, Berdych soon found himself down a match point and Tipsarevic was one volley away from a win. But he overhit it, and then double faulted to go down a match point at 6-7. It was all getting away from the Serb and while receiving serve, Tipsarevic slipped backward, giving Tomas the open court to put away a forehand to win the match. It was a sad end for Tipsarevic, who had shown his mettle as an alternative called in to compete when Andy Murray pulled out.

Losing two straight matches in a third set tiebreak would have been a massive disappointment for Berdych, but after surviving Tipsarevic his hopes of making the semifinals in London are still alive. The Czech must beat Spaniard David Ferrer to qualify for the knockout stages.

Ferrer stuns Djokovic
The night session at the ATP World Tour Finals was a huge contrast to the day session – the crowds were pumped up and vocal from the very start.

And as opposed to the day match, instead of the drama growing throughout the match, this time the match started well but ended up being a very one-sided affair. Most fans might have expected an easy win for the world number one, but David Ferrer proved to be the much better player on the night.

The Spaniard has a reputation for being one of the fittest, hardest working players on the tour, and he demonstrated this to the crowd. It’s hard to outhit Ferrer – he is superbly fit and fast and though he doesn’t possess the most powerful groundstrokes, his placement is fantastic and he can turn defence into offence very well.

When Ferrer went down early break points in the first set, Djokovic looked very much like the player he’s been throughout 2011: his shots had sting and great depth. But all of a sudden, those shots became less potent and it was Ferrer who was wining the rallies. It was if someone flipped a switch and errors began to fly off Novak’s racket. He looked a bit slower and was visibly at a loss for how to turn the match around.

Ferrer would break twice to win the first set and the night never got better for the world number one. Novak only held serve once in the second set and Ferrer would easily advance to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-1 victory. It was the third time in his career that the Spaniard beat the ATP top player after wins over Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal while they were at the top.

  In his post-match interview, Ferrer’s smile lit up the O2 Arena. “It was a surprise, no?” he said. “I think today maybe was my best match of the season.” With two straight set wins over player the #1 and #2 players in the world, it was easy to be thrilled for Ferrer, who will now face Berdych on Friday night.

Daveeed Ferrer!

What a night for Spain's David Ferrer! He advanced to the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals after straight setting both #3 Andy Murray and #1 Novak Djokovic. What a performance last night by David. Yes, Novak starting missing and got increasingly complacent and frustrated, but that takes nothing away from Ferrer - he played well from beginning to end to win 6-3, 6-1.

Photo spam time!!

Chest bump!

I love the Bryan brothers - nice guys and great tennis players who have done so much to promote the game of doubles. They pasted Horia Tecau and Robert Lindstedt last night, and ended the easy win with one of their infamous chest bumps:

They'll play the Indian express tomorrow night...

Janko's big slip

Poor Tipsy - at one set all, 6-6 and 5-5 in the third set tiebreak, he double faults and hands Tomas Berdych a match point.

Then this happens:

Rafa the humanitarian

Imagine my delight when it was announced today that Rafa was going to be awarded the ATP's Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award! I had no idea this was part of the lineup today so was just feeling lucky to witness more Rafa.

A bit of picture spam from the ceremony:

Nadal No Match for Superb Federer in London – Live Coverage

NOTE: While in London and Sevilla, I will be working as a tournament correspondent for Tennis Grandstand. For my first article, fellow blogger Ahmed Ibrahim and I collectively wrote up our perspectives of last night's Nadal vs Federer match. The following article was originally published in and can be viewed here.

Expectations. It’s hard to not be caught up in the hype when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off on the tennis courts. Before meeting in the 2011 ATP World Tour Finals, the two had met on 25 previous occasions, including countless Grand Slam finals. Given their illustrious history, it’s easy to expect magic every time they take the court.

Well, the only magic being showcased during Tuesday night’s round robin match between the two tennis greats was on Federer’s side of the court. He barely erred during the hour-long match, blasting winners from all over the court, serving superbly and moving with lightning speed.

Rafa, on the other hand, barely knew what hit him. He looked a half step slow, only hit four winners (compared with 28 for Roger) and his groundstrokes fell too short, time and again.

Rafa fans were stunned into silence as he was broken once to lose the first set, and then was dealt the ultimate humiliation of a bagel in a quick second set.

What went wrong? Rafa has never beaten Roger on the indoor courts. He’s 0-4 against the 16-time grand slam champion in the ATP World Tour Finals, and has historically not performed well in the indoor season.

As much as we Rafa fans want to look for reasons why he lost so badly tonight, it didn’t seem to be about the surface. Fed played nearly immaculate tennis, and Rafa being a bit flat and slow, his short, high balls were just eaten alive by Federer.

Being in the stands watching your favorite lose so badly is not pleasant. There’s nowhere to hide and suddenly the fervent cheers for the other player seem louder and more disruptive. Unfortunately, tonight was one of those difficult nights for this Rafa fan, but all credit to Roger for his stunning play. He certainly looks on track to repeat his 2010 World Tour Finals win.

For the Federer fans in the O2 Arena, however, nothing prepared them for what they would be witnessing: Roger Federer playing at his very best. It was like being transported back to 2005 with the crisp, clean, early hitting of the ball and dominating play from the baseline.

Federer did not give Rafa an inch to maneuver as he played deep ball after deep ball to keep Rafa off-guard and make him move around the court before executing the perfect winning forehand/backhand into the open court.

Notching up 28 winners to Nadal’s paltry four is testament to how well Federer played tonight and the risks he took to outplay his opponent. A 6-3 6-0 scoreline surely gives Federer a huge boost of confidence against the rest of field. No one else is producing this high level of tennis in the indoor circuit.

The atmosphere inside the O2 Arena was electrifying throughout and for Federer fans the cheers grew louder and louder with every winning shot he produced. Why can’t Fed play like this day in and day out? There came a point when Fed fans must surely have asked the question when will Federer’s form suddenly switch off (as is often the case!)?

Witnessing this performance against one the game’s greatest ever players is almost a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Federer vs Nadal legacy will live on forever but for those of us fortunate to see a match live, we should be savoring the moments as they will become less and less frequent.

Ahmed, an avid Federer fan, is the author of the website Tennis Addict and his twitter is @TennisAddict_.

World Tour Finals Tuesday: Rafa vs Fed

Photograph: Andrew Brownbill/AP
The Tuesday night ticket I bought weeks ago has proven to be the golden ticket - I get to see Rafa take on Fed!

As much as I am not a fan of the GOAT, I am beyond thrilled to see these two great rivals face off. Rafa barely got through Mardy Fish in his first round robin match last night, and apparently his play was spotty on top of some stomach issues (his run of bad luck in restaurants continues!) so hopefully he'll be in better form tomorrow night.

Given his long break, and Fed coming off a two-tournament win, I don't expect Rafa to win but he does seem to bring it when he plays Fed. 

So, night session at the O2 with Rafa and Fed. Should be an amazing night!

Days away from World Tour Finals!

Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

In less than 24 hours I'll be on my way to the UK to attend the World Tour Finals in London! Beyond excited to see my first indoor tournament and watch the top 8 men compete against each other.

There are so many questions - will injuries prevent Novak, Mardy and Andy from playing at full strength (or even completing their round robin matches)? How will ATP Finals newbie Mardy Fish compete on the biggest stage of his career? What are the London tennis crowds like outside posh Wimbledon and Queens? 

I have very low expectations of my main fave, Rafa. I don't even mind him playing at 60% or less considering he's got the Davis Cup final in early December but I just hope for injury free play from him.

I've got tickets for Tuesday night, Wednesday day/night and Friday night so praying hard one of these sessions will include Rafa vs Federer. Otherwise my already wounded credit card will get even more of a workout!

I'll be filing tournament reports for Tennis Grandstand so looking forward to sharing my experience!

World Tour Finals and Davis Cup bound!

I got a wild hair a few weeks ago and decided to go to the Davis Cup final in Seville, Spain. The only reason it even occurred to me as something to do was I found out tickets weren't on sale yet so I still had a chance!
(Ironically, they still aren't on sale mere weeks before the big event.). So with complete disregard for my finances (but I mean, really, I'd sell my car to attend this amazing event), I have booked my journey and cannot wait to see 
 Rafa, Ferrer, Delpo, Nalbandian, Pico, Fernando and Feli Lopez (most likely).

Rafa. On clay. In Spain. Hello bucket list!

So, given the distance required to get to Europe from New Zealand it's only logical that I should also make time to go to the World Tour Finals in London, right? Luckily for me my older bro lives near London so I can catch up with his lovely family and celebrate the lovely American Thanksgiving holiday while I'm there. The timing is perfect (thanks ATP).

One of my friends told me I should be in line for a tennis fan trophy this year. Either that or I should have my mental health checked. I can't imagine the money and hours I've spent watching tennis this year. But what better way to end my 'year of the fan slam' than by attending these two amazing events? I am a big believer in taking opportunities when they present themselves so I'm just going for it.